“A mercenary that gives a fuck. Great.”
Sometimes I watch a movie that’s hard to even squeeze a review out of. I could do a consumer reports type deal telling you the plot and that it’s boring and mediocre, but I wouldn’t have much of the ol’ insight to offer. Usually if I feel that way I just don’t bother writing anything. This one is borderline, but I’m gonna try to tough it out because I consider it historically important: it’s the directorial debut of Olivier Gruner.
Ah shit, now I looked it up and this is his third movie as a director. So it’s not even a milestone or anything. Why did I watch the whole thing?
Gruner also co-wrote the movie and stars as Nash, a private military contractor who is dearly missed by his wife and his son Max (played by Gruner’s actual son Nash Gruner – does this mean Gruner is playing the grown up version of his own son? Does this take place in the future? I do not know the answers to these questions.)
Nash and his colleagues go on a mission to kill an Al Qaeda leader in “Sector 4,” explained as the most dangerous area along the Pakistan border. They get captured, hooded, tortured, etc. until Nash escapes and walks to freedom. Then it’s kind of a RAMBO FIRST BLOOD PART 2 or UNCOMMON VALOR type deal where he finds out his buddies are still alive, but no one will help him get them back, so he decides to just do it by himself as a private citizen.
How can he pull it off? By training. Some fighting lessons, some mountain climbing, some shooting lessons. That should do it. This is one of the highlights of the movie, to the extent that anything in it could be called a highlight. I kinda liked it because I’m pretty sure Gruner was getting real lessons from people and recording it. At least in the quick draw marksmanship scene that seemed to be the case.
There’s alot of contrasting the contractors and their tough missions with their wives and kids back home. This is my actual favorite part of the movie because it seems like it has to be Gruner’s real house and some of their real wives and kids, and it keeps intercutting between the torture in the Middle East and the moms making a bunch of pizzas for the kids.
It has a very home-made, use-your-relatives-and-neighbors-as-the-supporting-cast type of feel and inept storytelling and filmatism. It opens with a long piece of first person narration by Gruner, then the expository scene where he’s recruited for the mission, then lengthy on screen text (read out loud by a narrator). But in case you’re still confused, about 27 minutes in they have a TV journalist on the scene with a live report of just re-re-explaining what Sector 4 is and offering no other information. It’s weird.
There’s a really weird filmatistic technique where Nash runs into a bunch of other soldiers in the area and they have a conversation in the dark. But it’s all just a dark blue scene with hard to make out silhouettes. They all sound like non-actors but I honestly can’t tell if they’re really in the shot or dubbed on later.
At the very end the reporter mentions that the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden are (spoiler) still unknown. I’ll be charitable and assume that means it’s a period piece, not that it’s been sitting on a shelf for years. It’s a prequel to ZERO DARK THIRTY, maybe.
To the movie’s credit the triumphant-sounding music by Michael Sean Colin (KILLJOY 3), though generic, does sound professional. If it had been as sucky as the movie I bet I would’ve turned it off.
The family scenes back home are laughably saccharine. The poor wife has to speak entirely in cliche. “You know, I actually thought this time was gonna be different. For the first time I believed that you were going to change things, and be a better father to Max.”
The son dreams of his dad taking him to the Grand Canyon and I will give you zero guesses which wonder of the world he takes him to at the end to prove that he really loves him even though he’s gone all the time.
All this is forgivable from a no-budget DTV directorial work by a lesser known martial arts star. What is not forgivable is the worthless action scenes, which are mostly just muzzle flashes in the dark. You can hardly see anything and even when you can there’s no attempt for the images to connect together and communicate what specifically is going on. It’s just like kids in a backyard yelling “BANG! BANG! BANG!” at each other. I’m not even gonna give it an ACR because me opening up Photoshop right now would be more effort than they seemed to put into planning those scenes out.
Eric Roberts actually gets top billing. He’s in several scenes in somebody’s apartment probly filmed in a day. The DVD has a trailer for the first EXPENDABLES on it, which seemed kind of out-of-date to me, but maybe it’s because Eric Roberts could almost be playing the same character. He’s the sleazy CIA guy who hires the mercenaries and doesn’t necessarily have their best interests in mind. (by “doesn’t necessarily” I actually mean “doesn’t.” The “necessarily” is silent.)
Luckily I am a positive individual, I look for the good in people or in movies and I found two moments in this boring movie that were pretty special. I describe them now in reverse chronological/quality order.
2. At the end, of course, Nash makes a deal with Eric Roberts which includes demand number three, “I want out. For good.”
And the bastard looks at him, and thinks about it, and he says, “I’ll miss you” and he signs the paper.
1. There’s a scene where the Al Qaeda guy comes to some of his soldiers and says “The Americans are coming” and “Are you ready for death?” and that type of shit that movie terrorists say to rally the troops against the infidels. But before that he asks them sincerely, “How is everyone? Good?”
I did not expect that little moment of non-evil for the villain, especially not in this barely-a-movie.
In the end SPOILER Nash realizes that his “no man left behind” policy should really extend to his son. He should stop working and just be with his son all the time. So if they make another one I guess it’ll be SECTOR 5: VACATION or something.
All this corny stuff would be really effective if there was any action movie meat on top, but there’s zero. Sorry.
But rather than dwelling on this being a dud let’s be productive. Please recommend to me any genuinely enjoyable Olivier Gruner movies. I think Isaac Florentine’s SAVATE might be the only Gruner I’ve even seen.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.